This week I attended a special screening of the documentary film Peace Officer, a winner of numerous 2015 film festival awards.
Peace Officer is a feature documentary about the increasingly militarized state of American police as told through the story of William “Dub” Lawrence, a former sheriff who established and trained his rural state’s first SWAT team only to see that same unit kill his son-in-law in a controversial standoff 30 years later. Driven by an obsessed sense of mission, Dub uses his own investigative skills to uncover the truth in this and other recent officer-involved shootings in his community while tackling larger questions about the changing face of peace officers nationwide.
The film was compelling, and while primarily centered on Dub Lawrence, who who will surely graduate life with honors (and appears to exude an amount of joy uncharacteristic of his circumstances, whether it be lowering himself by crane into a backed up sewer drain or recounting the 4-year long investigative odyssey into his son-in-law’s homicide), I felt there was also a near equal allotment of camera time given to the various other subjects of the film including those on either side as well as those sitting on the fence in regards to the topic of police militarization and accountability.
The showing was hosted by TAG (Texans for Accountable Government) and AFF (America’s Future Foundation). Following the film was a special Q&A session with co-director Brad Barber via Skype, and a three-speaker panel consisting of Austin City Councilman Don Zimmerman, Lakeway Chief of Police Todd Radford, and Texas ACLU Political Director Matt Simpson, who were also in attendance.
Unfortunately I failed to get in a question to the panel, but given the opportunity, here is the question I would have liked to ask.
In scenarios where no real crime is occurring – and by real crime I am referring to acts such as homicide or robbery, where someone is causing or attempting to cause actual harm to another person or their property – but for example in situations where a S.W.A.T. Team is performing a no-knock raid on a home where the target is a person accused of growing a plant, or on a broader scale for example when a law enforcement officer makes a traffic stop for a violation such as driving without a safety belt, the officers assume jurisdiction over other people including the authority to take control of their life and to guarantee compliance using deadly force if necessary. From who, where or how do they derive this authority? If your answer is that it is derived from the City of Austin Code and/or the Constitution of the State of Texas, can you please provide actual evidence, without referring to the documents themselves, that the laws and code actually apply to me or anyone in this room.
To understand the value of this question, consider the following. If I ask you to prove a claim that the sky is blue, and you respond with, “The sky is blue because it’s the sky. Duh!”, that would be a very clear case of circular reasoning since it doesn’t provide any useful information and only restates the claim that is supposed to be under scrutiny.
Similarly, if you were to attempt to respond to the question above as to what evidence there is that the constitution and code apply with, “The law applies because it’s the law”, which is to say “It applies because it says it applies”, that is also quite clearly an example of circular logic and demonstrates that none of what is happening in the world of government is based on your actual consent.
If agents of the state including armed officials and law enforcement believe and are acting on the assumption that they have the power to take control of your life because the “law” says they can, but no one is able to provide any factual basis to support this conclusion outside of referring back to the law itself, that means they are ultimately acting under their own authority, and not yours.
This renders the notion that “government’s derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” as quaint, and rather a bunch of balderdash.
Personally, I will admit to wearing my seat belt each and every time I get behind the wheel of my car, but if one day I should elect not to, or merely forget to buckle up, I in no way consent to having another human being violently take control of my life and my property and, if necessary, kill me for refusing to comply with their demands. To do so would be insane.
The law very clearly does not depend on your consent, nor do the people enforcing it.
You might attempt to object by saying that I consent by living here. (As an aside, if that were the case, then how is it also the case that I am subject to the laws of France if I just happen to be traveling there?)
Here is how the City of Austin Code reads:
The inhabitants of the City of Austin, Travis County, Texas, within its corporate limits, as established by Chapter 90, page 634, Special Laws of Texas, 1909, 31st Legislature, and as extended by ordinances of the City of Austin enacted subsequent thereto, shall continue to be and are hereby constituted a body politic and corporate, in perpetuity, under the name the “City of Austin,” … [my emphasis in italics]
That I consent to being a subject to the written will of a handful of people I’ve never met nor ever will meet due to my present geographical location is merely what the document itself attempts to prescribe. It offers nothing outside of itself to connect me (or you, or anyone) to it, and is therefore still circular.
Again, if your claim is that a certain document applies to me because I choose to reside in a defined geographical location and the only supposed proof of that is the document itself – a document which I should add has never been signed, is in no way a contract, does not even purport to be a contract, and cannot in fact be considered a contract – then is it not obvious that this is an arbitrary opinion that proves nothing except for the nature of the incredible game being played on society?
Consider the words of Lysander Spooner writing in ‘No Treason, The Constitution of No Authority’…
The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. And the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them. They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children. It is not only plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that they could bind their posterity, but they did not even attempt to bind them. That is to say, the instrument does not purport to be an agreement between any body but “the people” then existing; nor does it, either expressly or impliedly, assert any right, power, or disposition, on their part, to bind anybody but themselves.
How do you suspect that the officials in attendance at last nights film might have confronted the question as to whether they have any authority at all outside of coercive force?
The only possible answer is to put forth the evidence, if such evidence exists. All else should be deemed non-responsive.
As author and radio show host Marc Stevens has shown time and time again, when such questions are put to bureaucrats they tend to either dodge, squirm or grow hostile. Perhaps this is a natural fight or flight response because they find the questions threatening. But ask yourself, how can a question be threatening? What is more important, the pursuit of truth, or attachment to an idea in which you derive comfort that risks being taken away?
If you are new to this, don’t take my word for it. Do your own research and think critically, but be willing to give it an honest examination, and wrestle with these questions as I have done for over seven years. You can start with some of the links in this article.
In part two of this article, I will attempt to address:
What’s actually wrong with the present system of law enforcement that very few want to look at
What might be some more effective, non-violent alternatives to the current system
Why it is not necessary to hate cops, even when one detests the institutions they serve
Why there being no legitimate basis for government does not mean, “this is why we can’t have nice things.”